The country is notably on the brink of electing our very first female president, undeniably a product of the fact that women have been steadily challenging power structures—in all avenues of life—for decades. And that very much includes the restaurant industry, where Los Angeles has long been ahead of the curve. Because in a business so largely defined by misogyny and machismo, it's fascinating to note that a bulk of California's most formative figures are females, from Alice Waters, Suzanne Goin and Nancy Silverton, to Judy Rogers, Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken.
And a next-gen wave of chefs and restaurateurs are picking up where those trailblazers left off, favoring a style of leadership that's constructive rather than punitive, and actively promoting gender equality in the kitchen, by creating footholds into the industry for a subsequent slew of women. So in advance of our Taste Talks Los Angeles panel, "Women On the Line: How The Restaurant Industry Can and Must Be More Inclusive," we're shining a spotlight on three luminaries leading the charge.
A co-owner of Guelaguetza in Koreatown—an acclaimed temple of indigenous Oaxacan cooking, which her parents founded in 1994—Bricia Lopez has emerged as a modern-day proponent of Mexican culture, as well as a fundamental presence in LA's restaurant and spirit world. LA Weekly has named her amongst the "Best of LA" in their annual People Issue, and in 2013, Zagat counted her as one of the 16 Power Players in LA's dining and drinking scene, and placed her on their 30 under 30 list in 2014. Guelaguetza has been dubbed one of the 10 Best Mexican restaurants in the country by Travel and Leisure, and in 2015, won the highly coveted 'American Classics' James Beard award, for its local character and lasting appeal.
Lopez is a founding member and sitting president of The Taste of Mexico Association, and was invited to the White House to participate in a roundtable discussion with eight other of the country's business leaders on immigration and economic issues. She has also spoken of young immigrant issues in front of Mexico's president, Enrique Peña Nieto, and received special recognition from LA's council president for contributions and achievements within her community, and for inspiring other women as leaders.
In addition to overseeing a personal cooking blog and Oaxacan travel guide called Mole & More, Lopez also co-hosts a weekly podcast with her sister at Guelaguetza. Dubbed Super Mamás, it provides a judgment free space where new, experienced and expecting mothers can come together to not only exchange knowledge but more importantly, provide support for one another during the emotional ups and downs of motherhood.
An accidental chef (not to mention celebrity), Akasha Richmond originally moved to LA to further her studies in yoga. After catching the cooking bug during a stint at the Golden Temple—a celebrated vegetarian restaurant, popular amongst Hollywood's health-conscious elite—she decided to launch a career as a personal chef, sponsored by a few heavy-hitting friends she'd made during her Golden Temple tenure (that would be Michael Jackson, Barbara Streisand and Billy Bob Thornton). Her experience indulging the culinary whims of celebrities culminated in her first cookbook, Hollywood Dish, in 2006.
In 2008, she opened her first restaurant, AKASHA, inspired by her own gastronomic explorations, and the cuisines she encountered on the road—interweaving influences from India, Southeast Asia, Italy, Australia, Eastern Europe and more. And although she was executive chef and owner, she was shocked to immediately experience conflict with men in the kitchen, which led her to buckle down on her resolve to create a positive rhythm and balance in both her personal life and kitchen, steering clear of drinking, and incorporating exercise such as swimming, pilates and walking into her daily regimen. And although she's still busy expanding her restaurant brand (recently opening the Italian-leaning AR Cucina), Richmond regularly dedicates her time and expertise to groups such as Share Our Strength, Environmental Media Association, Common Threads and Pediatric Aids.
Hatfield was personally mentored by many of the industry's most formidable women. After obtaining a degree from Los Angeles Culinary Institute, where she perfected her ability to take classic combinations and translate them in unexpected ways, she honed her skills under Sherry Yard at Spago (where, incidentally, she ended up meeting her husband and eventual business partner, Quinn). The duo moved to New York, where Hatfield held positions at Café Boulud, Jean-Georges and Gramercy Tavern (working alongside James Beard Award winner Claudia Fleming), but eventually decamped back to LA, to open what would become one of LA's preeminent fine dining institutions, Hatfield's. During its run, the establishment garnered accolades such as "Best New Restaurants" by Bon Appetit, a perfect four-star review from Los Angeles Magazine, and "Top 10 Restaurants of the Decade" by the Los Angeles Zagat guide.
As beloved as the eatery was, however, Hatfield was fully cognizant of LA's seismic shift towards fast-casual dining, and thus, turned her attention to The Sycamore Kitchen, located in the design corridor of District La Brea. Redefining the urban bakery-eatery with her signature handcrafted yet refined touch (think salted caramel pecan babka and rye chocolate chip cookies), Hatfield also personally conceived The Sycamore Kitchen's design, which blends a vintage rustic sensibility with modern industrial touches, recalling the building's past life as an iconic 1950s print shop.
In 2015, the couple ended up closing Hatfield's for good and launching a laid-back, wood-fired spot called ODYS + PENELOPE—and when asked about the bittersweet transition, Hatfield was notably quoted as saying, "It's like how to get over an old boyfriend. Get a new one."
"Want to navigate the changing landscape with Lopez, Richmond and Hatfield? Buy your tickets to Taste Talks Los Angeles today!"